A taxing predicament

Casting about blindly for some recourse in the face of swelling unemployment, our state lawmakers have again swallowed the line that lowering the tax burden on large corporations will somehow equal a better economic state for the rest of us.

What the hell are they thinking?

We need to wake up from this Ayn Rand fantasy world where companies interact on an intrinsically fair, unencumbered playing field, engaging in vigorous competition to the benefit of consumer and employer alike. Capitalism and competition are all well and good, but leaving corporations basically in charge of their own tax codes is leaving the fox to guard the henhouse. All that’s left for the rest of us is a pile of feathers – or worse, maybe we’re the chickens.

In the last 50 or so years, the tax burden in this country has shifted increasingly away from corporations and the rich, to fall more squarely on the backs of the poor, individual citizen. This is a nationwide trend, visible in taxation at almost every level.

The state of Oregon is ranked 46th nationally in tax burden, with a state/local tax burden of 0.5 percent less than the national average. However, the lack of a sales tax, the often grotesque misallocation of tax monies and the absurd corporate tax fee schedule have only exacerbated the tailspin our state’s economy has been in ever since the spotted owl shat all over the timber industry.

But, disgustingly (if unsurprisingly), the pocket-liners in the state legislature have once more been seduced by the shiny promises of trickle-down economics.

The hoped-for boom time has not come. Though at this moment the job situation here in Oregon seems to be looking up, in the rural, eastern portions of the state unemployment rates are still between 13 and 17 percent. I suppose the logic is that corporations with more money to throw around will hire more employees, but the only thing that extra money will build out in the high desert is vacation homes for chuckling CEOs.

In 2000, Oregon’s most prosperous year in history, the Oregon Department of Revenue showed that a stunning 65 percent of corporations in the state paid the minimum tax: $10. Do you recall how much you got charged in 2000? How about last year? Perverse doesn’t come close to expressing the situation where a student pays more than ten times the taxes that Enron did.

Don’t these sorts of shifts impact the people the least able to absorb them? People living on fixed incomes and the poor have no recourse – they can only watch their electricity and gas bills skyrocket while the utilities themselves pay less per year in taxes than each of their customers pay in their bills each month.

The tragedy in all this is that school-aged children here in Oregon are going to bear the brunt of this myopia because, for some ungodly reason, when the coffers aren’t full the first thing to get the axe always seems to be our schools.

One obvious answer is a sales tax. Left uninformed, Oregonians have voted down sales tax measures nine straight times.

But I won’t start a riot. Leave the sales tax idea alone and we still have an excellent solution: Start making corporations pull their own weight. In the special election in February of 2004 we had the chance to make such a change with Measure 30, which would have increased the corporate minimum tax and tied up other corporate loopholes in addition to levying a personal income tax surcharge. Presumably the income tax surcharge is what scared voters off. But come on, people, if you want to play you’ve got to pay!

Riggs Fulmer can be reached at [email protected].